The International Space Station will soon receive a new tool that will help it better protect itself from the very serious threat of space debris.
Scientists have warned that space debris is a growing threat against current and future space missions. Even the smallest debris, travelling at speeds of up to 17,500 miles per hour, will inflict significant damage to spacecraft. The International Space Station is designed to withstand small impacts, but it will need all the help that it can get to remain as safe as possible.
ISS To Receive Space Debris Sensor From SpaceX's Dragon
On Dec. 12, SpaceX will launch the Dragon spacecraft on a Falcon 9 rocket to carry out a resupply service mission that will be covered by NASA. The Dragon will contain almost 4,800 pounds of cargo, including research, hardware and crew supplies.
One of the most important contents of the Dragon will be the Space Debris Sensor. The device was initially named the Debris Resistive/Acoustic Grid Orbital Navy-NASA Sensor, or DRAGONS, but NASA decided to change the name because it would be redundant with the name of SpaceX's spacecraft.
The Space Debris Sensor will not only shield the International Space Station, but it will also take measurements of all the things that hit it, including their speed, size, time, direction, and energy. Space debris will be allowed to pass through two layers to collect the data, with the third layer then stopping the objects.
The Space Debris Sensor will function as additional protection for the International Space Station, but the data that it will collect is just as important. Scientists will be able to use the data to monitor the risks of collisions with smaller space debris, and generate more accurate estimates of their existence in space.
The U.S. Department of Defense monitors the bigger space debris, including 20,000 objects as big as baseballs and 50,000 objects as big as marbles. The Space Debris Sensor, meanwhile, will focus on space junk that are only 50 microns to 1 millimeter in diameter, of which there are millions in space.
Cleaning Up Space Junk
The European Space Agency has called for coordinated efforts across the world to address the growing problem of space debris, as international action is needed to solve it.
One of the proposed solutions for cleaning up space debris is a new robotic gripper that uses adhesives inspired by geckos. By itself though, the technology will likely not be enough to eliminate all the junk floating around space right now.